By now, you may have heard the term food desert to describe certain areas of the nation, both rural and urban. You may even live in one of those areas yourself. But what are food deserts, and who do they affect? What can people living in a food desert do to ensure access to healthy foods needed to maintain good health?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), "Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers' markets, and healthy food providers."
In 2010, the most recent data available, USDA estimated that about 2.1 million households in the U.S. lived in an area considered a food desert. That number was determined by the amount of households living more than a mile away from a grocery store and without access to a vehicle or public transportation.
PBS reports that food deserts have been linked directly to increased occurrences of obesity and diabetes among those who live in them. The report also indicates that the majority of food deserts are in impoverished areas of the country.
What Can I Do If I Live in a Food Desert?
There are a number of ways you can ensure that you're eating a healthful, balanced diet if you live in a place where you have to make the most out of the rare grocery store trip:
- Buy fresh when you can. If fresh produce is on sale, stock up! Most fruits and vegetables can be prepped and frozen, allowing you to keep them for up to six months. Root vegetables can be stored in a cold, dry place -- such as the refrigerator or an unheated basement -- for months.
- Buy frozen produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables are fantastic choices for those living within food deserts. The freezing process maintains nutritional value and you can store the produce for months.
- Start a garden. If you're able, starting a fruit and vegetable garden is a great way to create access to healthy foods. By cultivating a garden rich with variety, you'll be able to provide yourself with the micronutrients you need and rely far less on the grocery store. At the end of the season, can or freeze your excess harvest.
- Take a multivitamin. If you think you may not be eating enough fruits or vegetables, start taking a multivitamin with minerals to ensure you're getting the vitamins and minerals you need.
- Choose the right packaged foods. By reading food labels, you can make healthier packaged food choices. Look for foods that have no more than 600 milligrams of sodium and 12 grams of sugar per serving.
With these tips, you can still eat a healthy, balanced diet if you live in a food desert area. If you don't live in a food desert yourself, you can still help fill the grocery store gap through the Food Empowerment Project.